Frank Pravia

Coach – Deceased

Bethel High School  Wrestling Coach (1955-’56 through 1967-’68)  and Baseball Coach 1957 through 1965

“Frank Pavia encouraged me to participate in wrestling.  He was down-to-earth and could communicate and connect with the members of his team.  Above all, he was loyal to them.” — Bill Harr, a 1963 Bethel graduate and a member of The Hall of Fame (inducted 2018).

Franks James Pavia was born September 30th, 1925 in Tacoma to Dominick and Christine Pavia.  He attended McCarver and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1943.  As was the case for many in that day, Mr. Pavia immediately joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, but was transferred to the infantry where he was trained as a mechanic and eventually rose to the rank of Technical Sergeant.  He was honorably discharged in 1946 and entered Pacific Lutheran College on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  He then entered the University of Washington, College of Law in the Fall of 1950, and after two years realized that a career in law was not for him.  Mr. Pavia returned to Pacific Lutheran and earned a second degree – a Bachelors of Education, and began teaching at Bethel High School in the Fall of 1955.  Also, because of his training in the U.S. Army, he worked at local gas stations as a mechanic while attending Pacific Lutheran and continued “Moonlighting” on weekends long after being hired by Bethel.

Throughout his career as a teacher, his focus was mainly on Washington state history, psychology and sociology.  In addition to his duties as a wrestling and baseball coach, he was involved with many other students on a personal level as the junior class advisor and the senior class guidance director for several years.  He also served on the Executive Board of the Bethel Booster’s Club.

According to Ed Niehl, the idea to start a wrestling program at Bethel High School originally came from Jack Justice in 1954.  At the time, Mr. Niehl was the head football coach and the athletic director, and Mr. Justice was the assistant head football coach.  Again, as per Mr. Niehl, wrestling was a frequent topic of discussion in conversations with the athletic directors of the other schools in the league at their monthy meetings.  Fife was the only school in the league to have an established program.  However, wrestling was  a sport that was gaining in popularity year by year and many of the other larger  schools, such as Lincoln, Stadium, Puyallup and Sumner had had wrestling programs for several years and it was also a recognized league sport.  

Mr. Niehl liked the idea and made his “pitch” to Earl Platt, Bethel’s principal.  Quite frankly, Mr. Niehl probably didn’t have to do very much to convince him that a program should be started, in that Mr. Platt was an ardent believer that high school sports kept a lot of students in school until they graduated.  Mr. Platt then went to the school board and was able to obtain the some funding.  In the meantime, Mr. Justice volunteered to be the coach and he was joined by Mr. Pavia – who would be the assistant – and hence, wrestling at Bethel was born.

The initial season would start in the late Fall of 1955 and coincide with the basketball season, which ended in late January or early February, 1956.  While some money was available for equipment, the practice facilities were indeed spartan as they were in one of the school’s bus barns on the back lot.  The entire team consisted of eight wrestlers; two freshmen, Carl Shriver and Markus Wickline,  two seniors,  Phil Caldwell and Buck Lathrum, and  the other four were sophomores , Del Hardie, Bob Rasmussen, Ed Leber and Chuck Parham.

At this point, three things are worth mentioning: (1) There was no wrestling season in the West Central League and this would continue until Bethel entered the Seamount League in the Fall of 1960;  (2) In spite of not being in a league in which most, if not all of the schools had wrestling programs, Bethel could still send wrestlers to the district “A”  and state tournaments; and (3)  Bethel’s only opponent from the West Central League was Fife and, as this biography continues, it will cover some hotly contested matches between the two schools, which would ultimately decide league championships.  Bethel and Fife were bitter rivals for several years.

Four matches were scheduled for the first year and the Braves won one of them – the team defeated Franklin Pierce, tied the Lincoln High School reserves, and lost their matches to the Stadium High School reserves and to Fife.  This was Bethel’s introduction to competative wrestling and for the next few seasons it would not be an easy venture.  As stated above, wrestling was not a recognized sport in the West Central League and consequently, Bethel had to look elsewhere for matches, and ended up facing some “big league” foes.  From the second season (1956-’57) until the last year in that league (1959-’60), the Braves went up against the varsity teams from the City League (Lincoln and Stadium – 4 times each) and Wilson (twice); the Puget Sound League (Puyallup – 5 times), Franklin Pierce (twice) and Clover Park (once); the KINGCO League (Bellevue – twice) along with one match against Bothell and Lake Washington. Bethel would also face Olympia, a member of the Capitol League four times and of course Fife, five times.  Bethel was a small Class “A” school and many of their opponents were Class “AA”, but these matches would prove to be vital in the coming years.

As Bethel entered its second year (1956-’57) of competition it was very apparent that the wrestling “Bug” had caught on.  Frank Pavia was now the head coach, as Mr. Justice took over as the assistant coach to Bob Fincham, the head basketball coach.  Bob Rasmussen and Carl Schriver returned for their second year, but the team had many new members and enough to fill all weight divisions, as well as having an eight member reserve team.  The season however, was not all that great as the Braves finished 0-4-1 – the tie was against Puyallup.

After winning just one match in the previous two years, Bethel started to turn it around in the 1957-’58 season and was about to become a team to be reckoned with in high school wrestling.  The Braves finished 3-4-0, beating Fife for the first time and Puyallup twice; the team lost to Lake Washington, Lincoln, Stadium and Olympia.  In those seven matches, Bethel scored 144 points to their opponents 190.  But, two individuals managed to make some history in the annuls of Bethel wrestling history.  Charles Ackerson, a junior, and freshman Dave Zacek were the school’s first district champions, and, Mr. Zacek would go on to finish third in his weight division at the State Tournament – another first for the Braves.  It would be a harbinger of events that were to come.

Mr. Pavia’s 1958-’59 team would put Bethel on “the map” as an established formidable opponent.  The team finished the season with a record 6-2-0, beating Lincoln (34-14), Wilson (35-14), Bellevue (33-23), Franklin Pierce (53-3), Stadium (26-21) and for the second straight year, Fife (30-18).  Their only losses were to Olympia (22-19) and Puyallup (26-14).  Carl Schriver and Charles Ackerson were the co-captains and Mr. Schriver indicated that after the Stadium match, several of their wrestlers made it a point to congratulate the Bethel team on how well they did and how tough they were.  The Braves scored 244 points on the season, to their opponents 141.

Bethel’s last year as a member of the West Central League, and basically wrestling as an “independent” team, came in the 1959-’60 season.  While their record was a disappointing 4-4-2, the Braves registered convincing wins over Lincoln (46-8), Franklin Pierce (40-14) and Bothell (48-0).  The other win was a close 22-19 match against Wilson.  The team tied the Stadium Tigers (24-24) and the Clover Park Warriors (22-22), but lost to Olympia (30-18), Bellevue (29-20), Puyallup (35-15), and, heaven forbid, the Fife Trojans (28-13).  Regardless of the season’s record, the Braves outscored their opponents 268-209, which was the highest total to date for a Bethel wrestling team.  Individually, the Braves also made some history.  For the  first time, three wrestlers went to the State Championship meet at Pullman and all three placed in their weight divisions – co-captain Dave Zacek placed third, his second third place finish in three years; co-captain Rod Perham took a fifth spot; and Larry Stearns also finished fifth in the unlimited division.

The 1960-’61 season also provided some new “firsts” for the team: (1) Bethel would join the newly formed Seamount League, which consisted of Bethel and six other schools, North Thurston, Peninsula, Shelton, Fife, Curtis and White River.  The Braves were now a member of a conference that recognized wrestling as a sanctioned league sport; (2) Quoting from the 1961 “Bethelonian”: “WRESTLERS GET NEW ROOM – Because of the construction of the new bus garage this year, the wrestling team was able to have their regular ‘after school’ turn out in the old bus building.  This eliminated the problem of not having enough space.”  In other words, the school’s buses weren’t in the way!  And (3), again quoting from that years “Bethelonian”: “Plans at the present time are being made to purchase a larger wrestling mat.  The Booster Club has contributed a great amount of help with this project.”    Money was tight and the wrestlers didn’t have such luxuries as weight rooms or jacquizzis, much less trainers and assistant coaches – Frank Pavia was the “laboring oar” and those were his teams.

Upon entering the new league, many of Mr. Pavia’s wrestlers were now match-tested veterans from the previous years of going up against more experienced teams from the larger schools in the area and this would pay some immediate dividends.  The ’60-’61 season’s schedule would consist of four non-league and five league matches -Peninsula was the only school that did not have a wrestling team.  The Braves were convincing in their non-league wins over Franklin Pierce (42-10), Puyallup (35-9), and Wilson (34-14).  The only close match was with Stadium (22-17) In the league matches, the Braves totally dominated their opponents – Curtis (46-0), White River (48-8), North Thurston (53-5), and Shelton (48-0).  Unfortunately, Fife also tore through the league and as if it were preordained, Bethel and Fife would meet in the last match of the season to determine which team would be the first Seamount League champion.  The match was held on February 9th, 1961 and just under 1000 people packed the Bethel gymnasium – it was standing room only and Fife took the match 28-15.  Still, at 8-1-0, it was a fine year for the team.  The Braves had a scoring advantage of almost 300 points (343-63) over all of their opponents.  Individually, five wrestlers would score at least 24 points, with Larry Stearns leading the way with 38 and there was a bright future, Wayne Wetherbee (28), Bill Jasper (26), Bill Miles (25), Dave Williams (16) and Mike Matheny (14) were all returning.

The 1961-’62 season saw the Braves win seven out of eight matches – the only blemish on their record was a tie with Stadium (20-20).  Again, Bethel dominated four of their league opponents – Curtis (31-11), White River (36-8), North Thurston (32-16), and Shelton (42-10), and of course, the last match would be against Fife.  As was the case in the 1960-’61 season, both teams were undefeated and the winner would be the league champion.  The match was a nail-biter and Bethel pulled out a 23-21 victory.  The Braves outscored all opponents by a better than two-to-one margin (251-121) and six wrestlers scored at least 21 points – Bill Miles (34) and Dave Williams (32) led the team.  Finally, there was another first for the team.  Six wrestlers went to the State Tournament, the most ever in the school’s program, and junior Mike Matheny placed fourth in his weight division.

The next year would be the high-water mark for Mr. Pavia and his teams.  The 1962-’63 season would see the Braves  not only win the league title, but the West Central District Tournament as well, and go on to finish second in the State Tournament.  It was one of the greatest wrestling teams in Bethel High School history.  However, after the opening match, one could doubt that statement because in a non-league contest, Bethel took on the Stadium Tigers, one of the favorites in the City League, and were defeated 24-21.  The Braves then defeated the Puyallup Vikings (30-15) and entered league play with their first match against North Thurston and they defeated the Rams by a score of 29-15, and went on to be undefeated in the remaining five matches.  Bethel defeated Curtis (46-10), Sumner (27-15), Laughbon (55-5), Fife (33-14) and White River (40-8).

Four wrestlers competed in the State Tournament; Dave Williams, Bill Harr, Mike Matheny and Larry Bonnell.  Harr would win the second place thophy in the 175-lb. weight division and Matheny would be Bethel’s first state champion, taking the title in the 133-lb. division.  This was another first for Bethel – previously, Dave Zacek had two third place finishes at the state meet.

As a team, the Braves outscored all opponents 281-106.  Individually, the scoring was about as balanced as one could get: the top eight scorers were Mike Matheny (34), Dave Williams (32), Bill Miles and Wayne Wetherbee (31), Larry Bonnell (30), Bill Harr (29), Gary Gray (25) and Al Guthrie (23).  This was a team loaded with talented and determined wrestlers and well-coached by Frank Pavia.

As is the case for all high school programs, athletes graduate and teams have to be rebuilt and this is what Mr. Pavia faced going into the 1963-’64 season.  Furthermore, the rest of the schools in the league started to “catch up” as their wrestlers started to gain experience and be more competitive, and as a result, both Bethel and Fife would no longer be the dominant teams in the league.

For the next five years Mr. Pavia’s teams would be good, but not great.  At the beginning of the 1963-’64 season, Mr. Richard Mosier became the junior varsity coach and assisted Mr. Pavia with the varsity.  The season would also bring about the rise of two very talented wrestlers, junior Danny Staab and his brother, sophomore Dennis Staab, and they would lead the team in scoring for the year.  Dennis would go on to finish second at the State Tournament.  However, the Staab brothers couldn’t carry the entire team and Mr. Pavia would suffer his first losing season since Bethel joined the Seamount League.  While the team was 3-3 in league action, they were 1-2-1 in non-league contests (4-5-1 overall).

The Braves posted a fourth place finish in the 1964-’65 campaign with a 4-3 record.  In two non-league matches, the team would beat Stadium (24-20) and Mt. Tahoma (36-6) for a 6-3 record overall.  Steve Norgan would lead the team with a 19-2 mark and go on to place third in the State Tournament.  A third Staab brother, sophomore Randy, would join his two brothers and the three of them combined would win 37 matches and lose just 10, with one draw (Danny (11-2), Dennis (14-2-1), and Randy (12-6)).  The team fared a little better in the 1965-’66 season with a 5-3 record, good for a third place finish and for the first time in Mr. Pavia’s career, there were no non-league matches.  In the eight league matches, Randy and Dennis Staab, along with Dave Rice, would each post 7-1-0 records to lead the team.

In the 1966-’67 season, Bethel would have its first losing season in league matches (4-5) and finished fourth in what was now a 10 team conference.  In spite of that, the season was salvaged somewhat with two non-league wins over Tahoma (38-15) and Enumclaw (42-8), giving the Braves a winning season afterall (6-5).  Mr. Pavia’s final season as Bethel’s head wrestling coach would be in  1967-’68.  The league had swelled to 12 teams and the Braves finished seventh with a 5-6 record.  Sophomore Jody Miller, the younger brother of this years’ honoree, Cody Miller, led the team in wins with 8, against 3 losses, good for 30 team points.  This was second to John Francis’ (7-4-0) 34.

To say the least, in 13 seasons it had to be “quite a ride”.  From a team beginning with no league affiliation, austere facilities and a “bare-bones” budget, to almost winning a state championship – and along the way, coaching many wrestlers who participated in the State Championship meets – Mr. Pavia earned the respect of his peers, his colleagues, the Bethel fans and his wrestlers.  Seven would garner places at the state level:  Dave Zacek (two 3rd’s); Mike Matheny (a 4th and a 1st); Bill Harr (a 2nd); Rod Parham (a 5th); Larry Stearns (a 5th); Dennis Staab (a 2nd); and, Steve Norgan (a 3rd).

Prior to joining the Seamount League, Mr. Pavia’s record against teams that, as one of his wrestlers stated, “we had no business being in the same gym with” was 14-16-4 (1955-’56 through 1959-’60).  His Seamount League record  (1960-’61 through 1967-’68) was 36-21 (.632) and in non-league matches it was 12-3-2 (.765) for an  overall record of 48-24-2 (.662).  For 13 years , it was 62-40-6, – a .602 winning percentage.

Mr. Pavia was also Bethel’s baseball coach, beginning in the 1957 season through 1965.  While he didn’t enjoy a championship season as he did in wrestling, his teams were always competitive in both the West Central and Seamount leagues, placing as high as second in 1957 and 1960.  He was a good coach and knew how to evaluate and best use the talent that he had on his teams.  

A good example came during the 1958 season.  Quoting from the yearbook: “BRAVES PLACE THIRD IN WCL – Bethel’s baseball squad got off to a very slow start this year, and it wasn’t until the Braves dumped the highly rated Orting Cardinals in the fourth game of the season that they caught fire.  After the Orting game, the Braves went on to dump the rest of their WCL opponents to gain a third place tie by the time the season ended.* * * Much of the credit for the Braves’ uphill fight must go to the Pitcher Eddie Hagen, Gary Gregg and Coach Frank Pavia.  Hagen became Bethel’s starting pitcher mid-way through the season and compiled a good earned run average, as well as knocking out a .342 average at the plate.”.  The move was simple but effective.  Gregg was the starting pitcher, but was struggling and Hagen was in the outfield.  Mr. Pavia merely had them switch positions and Gregg, relieved the pressure, went on to lead the team in batting (.352).

Mr. Pavia married Joan Carol MacDonald in 1954 and they had five children, Joe; Michael (a lawyer in Chicago, IL); Suzanne (died 2010); Terese; and Anne.  One sister, Dorothy Santelli, resides in Tacoma and is in her 90’s.  Tragically, Mr. Pavia died of a sudden and massive heart attack on January 22nd 1969 at the age of 43.  Joan passed away in 2007 at the age of 73.

As stated above, Frank Pavia was well respected by his peers, and in recognition he has been inducted into The Washington State Coaches Association Hall of Fame.  Furthermore, The Seamount League Championship Trophy, which was given each year to the school winning the title, bears his name – it is Frank Pavia’s trophy.  Suffice it to say that his induction into the Bethel School District Athletic Hall of Fame is a well-deserved tribute.

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